Here we go again.
Like punch-drunk boxers rising from the mat, we are starting our second round of IVF. It is easier and harder than last time; easier because we know what is coming, harder because… Well, we know what is coming! Fortunately, we don’t have to go through the rigmarole of the drugs cycle all over again, which means that Mrs Astronomer will be a lot less hormonal than last time. We’re simply taking the two eggs left over from the last round of IVF which have been patiently waiting for us in the freezer. So, all in all, it’s easier.
She’s still randomly bursting into tears, mind.
“Easy” is all relative, of course. Since the last round of IVF we’ve moved to Wiltshire, to a small village called – well, let’s call it Elderberry, just to help keep this blog vaguely anonymous. It’s a bit of a drive to the Oxford Fertility Clinic where our zygotes are being stored, but that’s not a major issue – it’s only an hour and a half in the car. We’ve got a lovely semidetached three bed house down a quiet cul-de-sac, backing on to a small wood… Elderberry is a quiet peaceful village: two pubs, two shops, a church, a primary school and that’s it. Half the streets don’t even have street lamps. It’s wonderfully quiet.
Perfect until it snows, that is! Britain is an odd place in the winter. We can cope with rain, drizzle, fog showers and mist, but the faintest bit of cold weather and we lose our collective minds. We tend to forget how to drive, or that when the Met Office says to only take essential journeys, they really mean it… We make a token effort of gritting the roads, but that’s about it. We are fully aware that the Canadians are laughing at us. To be fair, most of the time it is only a bit of cold weather, but the weekend just gone was different. Moist air from an Atlantic weather system (Storm “Emma”) combined with an unusual mass of cold air from Siberia, causing widespread snow across the UK. There was a red weather warning in Cornwall, for goodness sake. Cornwall, for those not fully clued up on British geography, is the sticky-out bit in the South-West. They can go literally years without snow.
This was not a good time to have a scan appointment. When it started to snow on Thursday, the evening before we were supposed to go for the initial scan, I was at work. Main roads were clogged as cars slipped and slod across the carriageway. The best way to solve the problem was to take the completely uncleared country lanes – a gamble, but one that paid off as I was able to get home, spending minimal time on the main roads, with the exception of the last hill before Elderberry. I must add that it was tremendous fun too, hurtling through abandoned country lanes (sideways, half the time!) before rejoining the main road as I got closer to home.
Pure bloody chaos. A line of traffic blocked by vehicles at the top where nervous drivers had attempted to cautiously creep their way up before losing all traction and coming unstuck. A journey which should have only taken an hour took me four and a half, a decent chunk of which involved digging and pushing other people’s cars out so we could all get to the top. At the top of the hill there was a -15C wind chill – I was very glad that I was wrapped up warm,* but dismayed as I could see our carefully laid plans evaporating.
Eventually I got home, our plan to drive to Oxford the night before our appointment scuppered by the weather. There wasn’t any chance of getting to the end of the street, let alone Oxford. The hour and a half it would take now looked entirely impractical. The fertility clinic were very understanding, and our appointment has been rescheduled. In the meantime, they asked, would it be possible to keep an eye on Mrs Astronomer’s cycle, and let them know when she ovulates?
This presented something of a problem. In order to find this out, she needed to pee on an ovulation kit. It’s a bit like a pregnancy test, only instead of telling you if you’re pregnant, it let’s you know that you’ve ovulated, and now is the best time for baby making. There was a slight problem: we didn’t have one in the house, and all of the roads in and out of the village were under about 18cm of snow.**
Guess who had to go out and buy an ovulation kit for Mrs Astronomer? Muggins, that’s who. The nearest Tesco is just shy of 10km round trip away*** along snowy country lanes and over a cheeky hill. Wrapped up warm, I set off the next morning to get a special stick for my wife to pee on. I set off by myself because a) it was very, very cold, b) I’m fitter than her and c) she has a habit of falling into snowdrifts.
I did my best to remember my winter warfare training**** and set out into the last of the blizzard. There was plenty of time to think and to clear my head. Time to think about the second round of IVF. I’ve been getting very upset recently about the whole thing and it was good to have time to myself to think. Every time something came on the radio about IVF whilst driving over the past couple of weeks and I would have to angrily slap the radio off. I’ve been slowly getting angrier and angrier about the injustice of it all and I was only just recognising it in myself. The only sound was the crunch of the fresh snow under my boots. Did I even want this? It was going to be a long and expensive process with no guarantee of success. It was going to put strain on our marriage due to all the extra stress. Even if it worked, it was a big step, and not one that could be taken lightly. All the negatives were swirling around my head, joining the snowflakes.
Yet here I was, trudging through wind and snow to get an ovulation kit just so that the clinic would have an extra scrap of information to aid success. Why?
A few weeks ago, I was sucker-punched by one of those random occurrences which crop up on social media from time to time. Happily scrolling through, minding my own business, I had found a picture of an ex girlfriend. She wasn’t even a particularly important ex girlfriend; there are those people with whom even a short relationship can leave you changed forever, and those who flit in and out of your life without leaving much of a mark at all. She was one of the latter. We’d had fun, been together for a short while, but it hadn’t worked out and we’d parted without much fuss. She was always a very private individual, never posting anything on Facebook; I’d forgotten I even had her as a friend. Generally speaking, if I care about someone, or can’t bear to let them go, I delete them from all social media. It’s easier that way, you’re not being bombarded with their photo of their current boyfriend or their status updates. She’d slipped through because of her total lack of online presence. Let’s call her Miss German, or Miss G for short.
There was a photo of her; asleep, topless, wrapped in a hospital blanket with a pair of newborn babies on her chest, covering each breast. A photo clearly taken by her husband or boyfriend or whatever he was. Miss G’s flame red hair was the same as it ever was, curly and messy after childbirth, her face the same as I remembered, if a little more worn by the intervening years. A perfect picture of peace, announcing the birth of their children. It’s not what you expect to see in your feed and it hit me for six. Suddenly, here was this photo, reminding me that of all the women who have even shown the slightest hint of emotion towards me, the one who loved me most -my darling Mrs Astronomer – couldn’t have children. The absurd unfairness of it had smashed into me, and it had been gnawing at me for days, filling me with doubt. What if I’d stayed with so and so, or not said that to such and such? Could my relationship with this ex or that survived if I’d done things differently? What if I’d had the courage to ask this girl or that out when I was at uni?
Most of my ex-girlfriends now have families and it’s not bloody fair. The one woman who I can say loves me with total certainty, the one relationship of mine that has actually worked, and she can’t have children. Unfortunately, that’s just the way the universe works. I’m reminded of a passage from one of my favourite authors, the late Sir Terry Pratchett:
“Take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder and sieve it through the finest sieve and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet… …you act as if there is some ideal order in the world, as if there is some… Some rightness in the universe by which it may be judged.”
Terry Pratchett, Hogfather
In short, the universe isn’t fair, and it’s no use pretending it is. This is the situation we’re in and there’s no point complaining about it. Moping or ennui won’t solve the problem, just getting on with it will. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth, put your boots on and trudge through the blizzard to get what you want*****.
It was snowing again pretty heavily when I got back. We snuggled up on the sofa and watched rubbish TV together, much happier than when I left. You can’t get everything you want in life, but sometimes what you can get is pretty good.
*Americans, I will not convert -15C into Fahrenheit for you. Nobody uses Fahrenheit. It’s a daft system. Let the metric system into your life. In the meantime, let’s just go with -15C = very, very cold.
**No, damnit! Work it out yourself! I’m not converting that into inches for you!
***FINE. Six miles. Happy now?
****All I could remember was the bits about wearing lots of thin layers rather than a few fat ones, about dressing for the second mile, and not eating yellow snow.
Not all of the lessons we were taught were useful.
*****Of course, the upside of all this is that when I’m old, I shall be able to put on my best Yorkshire accent and complain about how when I were a young man, if you wanted to get your wife pregnant, you had t’ trudge six mile through blizzard to do it. Uphill, bot’ ways.